Cities that don’t let Immigration Customs and Enforcement agents into their prisons and jails will lose significant federal funding, according to an announcement Attorney General Jeff Sessions made on Tuesday afternoon.
This is the first time the Justice Department has officially put immigration-related limits on which cities can get lucrative federal funds that many cities rely on for law enforcement, known as Byrne Justice Assistance Grants. It means the Justice Department is keeping one of President Donald Trump’s key campaign promises to crack down on sanctuary cities, in the middle of a series of verbal assaults on the Attorney General.
The announcement stipulates three new qualifications for cities to be eligible for the grants: First, they must let ICE officers have access to their detention centers. Second, they must not block their law enforcement officers from sharing information with ICE about the immigration status of people they arrest. And third, they must give ICE forty-eight hours’ notice before releasing anyone who ICE has a detainer on.
“So-called ‘sanctuary’ policies make all of us less safe because they intentionally undermine our laws and protect illegal aliens who have committed crimes,” Sessions said in a statement.
“This is what the American people should be able to expect from their cities and states, and these long overdue requirements will help us take down MS-13 and other violent transnational gangs, and make our country safer,” he added.
The Justice Department won’t claw back any of the grant money that cities have already received or are set to receive this year. But starting next year, cities must comply with these three rules if they want to get the grant money.
The move will draw scorching condemnation from immigrants’ rights activists, and may result in lawsuits as well.
The Trump administration has long argued that sanctuary cities endanger their residents when they don’t fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities. But immigrants’ rights advocates say sanctuary city policies protect relationships between undocumented immigrants and law enforcement officials – and that when police work hand-in-glove with ICE, undocumented immigrants often fear telling them about crimes and calling them for help.
The announcement comes at a time when the White House’s relationship with the Justice Department is as tense as it’s ever been. On Tuesday afternoon, Trump told the Wall Street Journal that he is “very disappointed” in the attorney general and may fire him, the latest in a series of hints that he wants Sessions to resign of his own accord. Two of Sessions’ allies told The Daily Beast earlier on Tuesday that the attorney general has no plans to step down.
This announcement helps show why the attorney general refuses to leave his post. Sessions, according to one of his allies, believes the work he’s doing at the Justice Department is incredibly important – and he’s just getting started.
“He is not going to resign,” the source said earlier today. “What he is accomplishing is way too important to the country.”
And this is the kind of work Sessions cares about most. When he was in the Senate, he was a dogged opponent of sanctuary cities, and spent years calling for the Justice Department to do exactly what it did today.
This all horrifies immigrants’ rights advocates, who say the sanctuary city crack-down jeopardizes public safety.
But the threat of losing Byrne grants is a potent one. Officials in the city of Austin, which doesn’t cooperate fully with the federal government on immigration enforcement and which currently receives that grant money, told The Daily Beast in March that they may have to cooperate more with ICE if it’s required to keep getting the grant money.